TO: Batchellerville Bridge Action Committee Members
FROM: Peter Van Avery
DATE: April 30, 2013

April 15 is my target date for opening our summer place in Edinburg. During the bleak winter months, as one cold, grey day yields slowly to another, the thought of getting back to the beautiful shores of Great Sacandaga Lake and its endless opportunities for fun keeps me going. This spring, with daily temperatures running a little lower than average, I considered holding off for a week. But in the end, I couldn't resist and switched on the water just one day late.

I don't know about you, but it's a real thrill for me to flick on the circuit breaker and hear the pump spring back to life, sending water surging through the pipes I drained last fall. Then comes the fun of hustling up and down stairs several times to bleed the air out of the pipes. When everything's running smoothly and the pump finally clicks off -- and a close inspection reveals that nothing is leaking -- I feel really great.

With the snow finally melted, I was pleased to see that Mother Nature had taken it easy on our trees and shrubs during the winter. No large branches were down, and the spring raking of our lawn went faster than usual.

I hope that all of you have a spectacular summer season. Bring it on!

I suspect that you folks are as bored with reading about the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District's financial plight as I am with writing about it. Good news: the final hurdle has been jumped. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has certified the District's plan to bill the five counties immediately downstream of the Conklingville Dam for most of its operating and maintenance costs. Thus ends a long and seemingly endless legal battle.

When a Federal Appeals Court ruled in 2008 that the District could no longer bill downstream hydro plant operators for its operating costs, the authority lost more than 80% of its revenue. To replace the hydros, the District decided to assess the five downstream counties --- Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington -- for flood-control benefits.

The counties viewed this as illegal and fought back with a lawsuit, which they ultimately lost. However, the lawsuit did succeed in lowering the counties' total bill. An appellate court ruled that the state, which also owned property in those five counties, also benefited from flood control and should pay its fair share (later determined to be 22%) of the assessment.

The last obstacle in this long struggle was certification by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, which is now in hand.

In the first round of payments (due now), the counties will be charged a total of $2,994,100 for the July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 fiscal year. Here's the breakdown: Albany (35% or $1,034,698), Rensselaer (18% or $542,447), Saratoga (35% or $1,035,809), Warren (8% or $242,908), and Washington (5% or $138,238). (Because of rounding, the total adds up to 101%.) The same charges will apply for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, with payments due October 31, 2013.

Note: Since the Regulating District owes Saratoga County $3.8 million in property and school taxes, that county will not have to pay its assessment for the next three years.

In addition, the counties owe the District $3.5 million in "back charges" (the amount the counties owe for their 2010-2012 assessments). Here's the breakdown: Albany ($1,209,527), Rensselaer ($634,102), Saratoga ($1,210,824), Warren ($283,952), and Washington ($161,595). Once again, Saratoga County will receive a credit against outstanding taxes due.

The Regulating District's financial crisis was preceded by a rule-revision crisis. In 2006, the District decided to update the rules governing use by permit holders of state-owned property at Great Sacandaga Lake. The project sputtered along until the state Department of Environmental Conservation inflamed property owners by asserting that the revised rules should make it clear that permit holders did not have "exclusive use" of their permit areas. In other words, said DEC, the access permit zone should be open to the public 24/7.

In June 2009, partly as a result of the public uproar, Governor David Paterson withdrew the rule-revision process. Another contributing factor: the 2008 Federal Appeals Court ruling that the District could no longer bill the downstream hydro plants for its expenses. It was apparent that the District would be fully occupied for the next few years in identifying a new source of revenue -- as indeed proved to be the case. However, then state Deputy Secretary for the Environment Judith Enck cautioned that the state had not given up on reforming the permit system.

Now that the District's financial crisis has been resolved, the next question is: Will the state resurrect the rule-revision process, zombie-like, from the dead? If so, will DEC continue to insist that the access permit zone be converted into a public park? Stay tuned and stay strong!

Michael Astafan has resigned from the District's board, leaving only four of its seven seats filled. Since the board requires a quorum of four members to conduct any official business, this means that a flu bug or other personal emergency could torpedo its monthly meeting. I'd hate to make the long drive from Watertown to Mayfield (or vice versa), spend the night in a motel, and then awake to discover that the meeting was canceled because Board Member X was sitting in a dentist's office with an aching molar.

Quite clearly, staffing the District's board is a low priority of the Governor's Office. One seat has been vacant for 28 months; the second, for 15 months. In recent years, the board has evolved into a strictly old-boys club. It's time for the Governor's Office to bring this board into the twenty-first century. All three empty seats should be reserved for women, at least one of whom should be from Saratoga County, which currently has no representation on the board.

The next meeting of the Regulating District's board will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at the Mayfield Municipal Complex, 28 North School Street, Mayfield, NY 12117.

Great Sacandaga Lake is at 764.6 feet above sea level, almost exactly on target.